Paradise found (and it’s only two-and-a-bit hours away)

What does heaven look like to you?

Perhaps it’s a cold glass of pale pink Côtes de Provence rosé whilst sitting on a beach with your toes in the sand, waiting for a waiter to bring you a platter of fresh grilled seafood? Or maybe it’s waking up to the sound of waves, followed by a shower with an ocean view and then tucking into a strong cup of coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice on the terrace with a copy of the morning newspaper.

Or what about that way your skin feels on a warm evening when you’re still all tingly and sunkissed from a sunny afternoon, and then cooling down with sundowners at sunset from a rooftop bar, a gentle breeze softly caressing your (slightly sunburnt) skin. Either way, I’ve got good news for you. All of this is possible – and it’s just a short flight away with Monarch.

Yup, that’s right. You could leave work right now and be on a hot and sunny beach in a matter of hours! So where is this little slice of heaven, I hear you ask?

If you scroll down through my pictures you’d be forgiven for guessing L.A, Miami or Palm Springs, with the bright blue sea, clear skies and countless palm trees creating a Slim Aarons style backdrop to this contemporary and stylish hotel. After all, it was March when I went – and to find real sunbathing weather this time of year you’d have to board a long-haul flight, right? Wrong.

Give up? I’m talking about Marbella; a picturesque old town with a manicured promenade dividing the town from the pristine beaches and beach restaurants. It’s no wonder the area is called the ‘Costa Del Sol’ – which literally translates as the sunshine coast – because there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky the entire time we were there. This is because Marbella has it’s own micro-climate (which it owes to the surrounding mountains apparently), which pretty much guarantees the perfect holiday, even in March!

I’d been to Marbella before as I had a friend with a family place near there, so already knew of its beauty, culture and climate, but I had never been to the Amàre Marbella Beach Hotel – which is really the icing on the Costa Del Sol cake.

After a quick Monarch flight from Gatwick to Malaga airport (two and a bit hours – just enough time to read two magazines and delete old photos and videos to clear up space on my phone for new pictures), we arrived at Malaga’s floor-to-ceiling glass airport. After a 45 minute drive along the coast and through dramatic mountainous scenery we arrived at the stunning beachfront hotel right across the road from Marbella’s old town – with Amàre bicycles parked outside to explore the town with.

That recognisable holiday feeling of instant relief mixed with childish excitement washed over me the moment we stepped inside the bright and airy lobby. I couldn’t stop my mouth blurting Oh-My-God-Oh-My-God-Oh-My-God everywhere I looked: floor-to-ceiling glass windows, Philippe Starck ghost armchairs, glass curved desks and Milo Baughman inspired designer furniture, contrasted against rustic, stripped wooden beams to remind us we were seconds away from the beach.

Opening the door to my room was another jaw-drop moment, and I don’t think I was able to close my mouth until several minutes later. I may have actually physically drooled on the floor. As soon as you place your key card into the slot, Debussy’s Claire de Lune starts playing softly in the background.

To my left there was a large open bathroom with a glass shower room that has views of the sea (yes, really), to my right was enough closet space to host a Kardashian’s holiday wardrobe, and straight ahead was an enormous bed with white carved headboard, a small sitting area, a desk area, a mini-fridge, Nespresso machine and a bookcase stocking the holiday essentials you may find yourself needing – from crisps and popcorn to liquor miniatures and mixers, to vibrating cock rings and handcuffs. Because, you know.

And then there’s your private balcony. The bedroom opens on to a small private balcony with a table and chairs, with views overlooking the hotel’s swimming pool and beach, and the palm tree lined pedestrian promenade that leads to Puerto Banús.

Once I managed to compose myself, I joined the rest of our group downstairs in the Amàre Lounge for champagne, dinner, and the evening entertainment. The Lounge opens on to the pool area that overlooks the beach, and both the pool and the palm trees were lit up in warm pinks and purples, creating a romantic, sultry atmosphere.

The live music kicked off at 9pm, getting everyone’s bums wiggling in their seats as they tucked into a creamy pistachio soup with local Iberico ham, Parmesan and seaweed salad.

After the red curry oxtail dim sum (incredible), grouper fish, and ‘three texture brownies’, it was time to hit the hay.

The combination of the wine and champagne together with the slight breeze coming in through my balcony doors with the sound of the waves rolling against the beach sent me into an instant comatose sleep.

I don’t remember falling asleep (I think it may have happened the second I lay down, still fully dressed), but I do remember waking up – the sun warming my face, the sound of the waves still echoing through the room and the sound of people enjoying breakfast on the terrace downstairs.

It was still early, so I lingered under the monsoon shower, gazing out at the ocean view, then sat out on my balcony in a dressing gown, sipping on my coffee and people watching.

There were people rollerblading, cycling and walking their dogs along the promenade, old men deep in conversation and gesticulating wildly on a nearby bench, and a (presumably German) couple that were already laying out their beach towels on the sunbeds by the pool, marking their tanning spot for when they finished breakfast.

I could hear the faint sound of a cappuccino machine and headed downstairs to the breakfast buffet – or should I say banquet? Sausages, scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns, black pudding, baked beans and other hot foods on one end, and fresh watermelon, pineapple, berries, yoghurts, cereals, pastries, hams, cheeses, smoked salmon and even salads on the other.

Outside there was an area dedicated to the constant squeezing of oranges, then up a couple of steps there’s a large breakfast terrace overlooking the pool area and beach. I piled my plate with an odd selection from the buffet / banquet – watermelon, tomatoes, olives and scrambled egg – and we found a sunny spot on the terrace.

That first day was a blur of amazing activities, starting with a guided tour of Marbella old town courtesy of the Marbella Tourism Board.

Marbella old town is so picturesque and unspoilt, with it’s cobbled streets, colourful houses, potted plants and flowers everywhere, painted tile maps and benches, and of course it’s infamous ‘orange square’; the heart of Old Town Marbella where everyone gravitates towards for coffee, tapas, wine and people watching.

I wish all streets could be paved in patterns!

After a few hours of walking we were ready to experience the Amàre Marbella Spa by Germaine de Capuccini where we were kneaded into an elastic-y stretchy pulp during an hour-long massage, and then relaxed some more in the hydrotherapy circuit.

There was a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi pool and strong jet fountain that pummeled water onto your neck and shoulders in the swimming pool. It’s safe to say we were drowning in happiness!

We decided to have a long leisurely lunch at Amàre Beach – a seafood feast served on the beach with ice cold Côtes de Provence rosé, and live jazz playing in the background.

The pictures just don’t do it justice – you’ll have to watch the video!

After spending the rest of the day on the beach, it was time for a cocktail masterclass on Amare’s Belvue Rooftop Bar!

Every year the hotel organises a cocktail making competition where the winning new cocktail will be added to the menu. Naturally we were keen to sample them all! I even had a go at shaking some cocktails myself!

 

We had dinner and partied on at restaurant, bar and dancefloor La Sala Banús – a lively restaurant with people singing and dancing, and filled with mostly British expats. When we got back I collapsed in bed and fell back into a deep and comatose sleep.

After breakfast, the hotel arranged another guided tour for us – this time on the Amare bicycles! They’re so fabulous I’ve been lusting after one similar ever since!

We cycled from the hotel down onto the promenade and just followed the pretty promenade all the way to Puerto Banús – about an hour’s cycle ride with plenty of stopping on the way!

The promenade is perfect for exploring by bike as it’s generously wide, lined with palm trees, has beautiful views and is a great way to see what local life is like.

Puerto Banús is also worth exploring – a very glamorous side of Marbella, attracting the jet-set and WAG crowd. It’s not necessarily my cup of tea – fat men in gold chains rearing their engines and driving their convertables down the pedestrian shop-lined streets in order to gain attention (which sadly they do – the younger chain-wearing footballer types taking selfies in front of fast cars), while botoxed WAG-wanabes pose and pout on the yachts that they don’t own. But hey. It’s fun for people-watching!

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We raced back to the hotel and arrived just in time for lunch – this time at Soleo Marbella – a beach restaurant just a five minute stroll from the hotel, with fabulous interiors! Red and white stripe seating, herringbone tiles and tables, inky blue serveware and carved wood menus.

The food was beautifully presented – the whitebait came in newspaper cones hung on a specially designed plate, and sardines were served on bubble glass plates that were made to look like ice.

We moved on to black paella (blackened with squid ink), washed down with plenty more wine, then let it all digest whilst sunbathing on the beach. It was another scorching hot day and I tried to go for a dip in the sea, but the water was still freezing!

As the sun started to set it was sadly time to get back to London. We toasted the weekend with tapas and cocktails on the rooftop bar, watching the sun set over Marbella old town’s roof tops.

Before I knew it I was back in London – had it really been just two days since I left my humble London flat behind? It felt so surreal to wake up for work the following morning – as though the whole weekend had been just a dream… But the sand in my shoes was a reminder that it wasn’t. 

Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates flights to Malaga from Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Luton, Leeds Bradford and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £42 one way (£75 return). For further information or to book Monarch flights, Monarch Holidays or Monarch Hotels, please visit www.monarch.co.uk

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